HELENA — Members of Montana’s congressional delegation have denounced a recent memo from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that says it’s illegal for licensed medical marijuana cardholders to own or possess firearms or ammunition.
Montanans voted in 2004 to legalize the use of marijuana for certain medicinal purposes. As of Aug. 31, the state had 26,492 medical marijuana cardholders.
Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, in a letter Wednesday to Attorney General Eric Holder and the memo’s author, Arthur Herbert, assistant director of federal bureau, urged them to “immediately reconsider this misguided effort.”
He was referring to Herbert’s Sept. 21 memo clarifying that it’s illegal for a medical marijuana cardholder to buy, use or possess firearms and ammunition and illegal for dealers to sell these products to them.
“These regulatory changes infringe upon the privacy and Second Amendment rights of Montanans while placing an unreasonable burden upon the small-business owners who sell firearms and ammunition,” Tester said.
He added, “It is unacceptable that law-abiding citizens would be stripped of their Second Amendment rights simply because they hold a state-issued card authorizing the possession and use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.”
Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg, through spokesman Jed Link, also criticized the policy and went on to condemn the Obama administration.
“Between the ATF clamping down on gun rights and two new anti-gun Supreme Court justices, Montanans’ Second Amendment rights are once again under fire from Washington,” Link said Thursday. “Denny’s going to keep fighting to protect this critical right from Washington overreach, whether it is legislative, executive or judicial.”
Democratic Sen. Max Baucus also condemned the federal government memo.
“Our Second Amendment rights are a part of who we are as Montanans, and I’ve always fought hard to protect our right to bear arms,” Baucus said. “I’m concerned to hear ATF may be impeding the rights of law-abiding folks. Individual gun rights must be protected and I’ll never stop fighting to make sure they stay intact.”
A recently formed group asked delegation members Thursday to introduce legislation to exempt medical marijuana from federal law enforcement in states that have legalized medical pot or are considering it.
The Montana Coalition for Rights also wants the legislation to respect the sovereignty of states when it comes to medical marijuana laws. Montana and 15 other states and the District of Columbia have legalized the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.
“We are hoping to encourage Montana’s senators and congressman to stand up for Montana and enact some legislation that will give federal agencies clear guidance on respect to states’ sovereignty and the will of the voters in states that have enacted medical cannabis laws,” said Nathan Pierce of Missoula, a founder and board member of the group.
The group, formed about three months ago, announced a proposed ballot measure to amend the Montana Constitution to protect voter-passed ballot measures from being amended by the Legislature.
It would stipulate if the Legislature made any changes to voter-passed measures, they would have to be sent back to voters for their approval or rejection.
The group asked the members of Montana’s congressional delegation to respond by Oct. 5 whether they will sponsor the requested legislation.